After 25 years of Mexican wolf recovery program efforts, there are still fewer than 200 Mexican wolves living in the wild. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the slow pace of recovery is due to high levels of human-caused mortality, with gunshot being the leading cause of death for Mexican wolves in the wild.
Mexican wolves and coyotes are both native to New Mexico and can look substantially similar. Under New Mexico Game and Fish Department rules, coyotes are completely unprotected and can be killed year round in unlimited numbers. This places Mexican wolves at extreme risk of being misidentified and shot. The indiscriminate slaughter of coyotes contributes directly to the killing of endangered Mexican wolves.
Our state game department allows and even encourages the recreational killing of coyotes. This policy demonstrates a staggering level of scientific and ethical incompetence from the one state agency that should know better. This is not professional wildlife management; this is abuse. Negligence this extreme seems almost criminal, but there’s no clear pathway to accountability for this agency failure.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish supports itself by selling off the public’s wildlife for recreational killing. But the vast majority of New Mexicans who do not hunt or fish never agreed to this arrangement, and have virtually no say in how their wildlife is managed. State wildlife management lacks every major component of good governance: accountability, inclusiveness, transparency, responsiveness, and effectiveness. This is a crisis of legitimacy that harms the people and wildlife of our state, and undermines trust in government.
Wildlife is a public trust in which everyone has a legitimate interest, not just those who consume it. The state Game Commission and NMDGF are responsible for protecting the wildlife of this state, but in this capacity they are betraying their public trust duties to the people they are supposed to serve and the wildlife they exist to protect.
The game department has a long history of failing in its public trust duties. This state agency did nothing to stop the obscene coyote killing contests. The state Legislature had to intervene to stop the slaughter. The game department continued to promote trapping and snaring on public lands despite broad public opposition. Again, the Legislature had to intervene to put an end to the destruction. Adding insult to injury, the game department calls this mass killing of wildlife “conservation.”
Let’s be clear: killing wildlife is not conservation.
Globally, wildlife populations are in collapse and it’s difficult to justify the continued recreational killing of wildlife in an age of mass extinctions. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is a century-old relic of state government that consistently fails the needs of the wildlife it is supposed to protect and the people it is supposed to serve. There is a dire and urgent need to reform state wildlife management, but those reforms are unlikely to come from the game department itself. Again, the Legislature will have to intervene.
Endangered or not, the wildlife of this state is not trash to be exterminated. New Mexico needs a state wildlife agency focused on genuine conservation of wildlife and habitats, not underhanded exploitation. We need a state wildlife agency with a mission, methods, and agency culture that actually reflect our values. Without meaningful reforms, our wildlife faces a grim future.